How solo travel can fix your toxic relationships

By Anna Brech

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Most people have toxic relationships in their lives, but they can be hard to see when you’re nose-up to the action.

And that’s where solo travel comes in.

When you travel alone, you gain the distance and head space to recognise the people who bring you down. And, since you can’t escape every difficult figure in your life, you develop the levity to handle them, too.

It’s a pretty radical effect – here’s how to put it to test:

For difficult relatives

The film Little Miss Sunshine

How solo travel helps: a healing distance

Families are like fudge, said comedian Les Dawson: mostly sweet, with a few nuts.

It’s easy to feel hemmed in by demanding or dysfunctional relatives, and many of us find it tough to set limits. But finding your own space is key to keeping your cool.

And sure, you can’t run away from your problems, but hopping on a plane will give you instant distance from the issues weighing you down.

Think of it as the long-haul version of going out for a walk at Christmas, when the sherry-fuelled family drama hits its peak.

Read more: How solo travel peels back layers of stress

When you travel alone, you cut loose from the obligations that frame you in day-to-day life.

You’re no longer someone’s sister, son or aunt but a person of independent means – free to do what you want and be who you want, without any feelings of lingering resentment/ guilt.

Of course, the holiday has to end sometime. But by gifting yourself regular time out in the form of solo travel, you’re carving the space to be a bigger person.

Not only will you feel better, you’ll be kinder and more tolerant as a result.

For friendship fallouts

The film Bridesmaids

How solo travel helps: fresh perspective

If anything, friends are more important than family for our health and happiness. So when things go south in a friendship, it can really hit hard.

Studies show around 40% of people have been ghosted by a mate, while other friendships simply fade away due to circumstance or life stage.

Either way, solo travel is a healer here. By venturing out alone – whether you’re beach-hopping in Bali or hiking the Morocco hills – you allow yourself room to process how you’re feeling.

Read more: How to make friends in your 30s and 40s

It’s easy to get stuck on the one person who makes you feel bad.

But when you broaden your horizons, you remind yourself that there’s a whole world out there. And it’s filled with interesting new people and potential friends (you’ll be amazed how easy it is to meet other travellers when you’re on the road, too).

Since your self-esteem will have taken a dent, this is also a chance to rebuild the damage. By tackling day-to-day decisions on your own, your resilience will gear up. You, my friend, can bounce back from anything.

For a bullying boss

Meryl Streep and Anne Hathaway in The Devil wears Prada

How solo travel helps: new and distracting challenges

Nothing messes with your head like the maelstrom of office politics, particularly when you’re the underdog in the equation.

Bullying or lack of support accounts for around 27% of work-related stress disorders in the UK, so it’s fair to say that a boss who undermines you can wreck havoc on your life.

What’s the answer? Well, you probably need to speak to HR or think about changing jobs.

But, for a more immediate coping strategy, you need something to remove you from your whirring mind. A distraction that’s direct and potent enough to cut through the negative thought cycle you’re likely stuck on.

Read more: Feel the fear with these 6 daredevil challenges

Solo travel hits the mark here, because it’s brimming with challenges – both large and small. First, you have all the logistics of being in a new place: where to stay, whether to book that sleeper train, how much money you have left.

Then you have the full sensory overload of your new environment. Think about arriving in old-town Hanoi, with its mass of bleeping scooters and tiny, chaotic streets. Or Jordan’s capital Amman, with its heaving downtown bazaar and an ancient, atmospheric cityscape.

You’ll be so busy getting your head around the cacophony of new languages, sights, smells and cultural norms, you won’t have time dwell on anything else. Especially not the unfairness of what Dan your line manager said in your latest appraisal.

For messy break-ups

Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling in Blue Valentine

How solo travel helps: managing your time in a positive way

Un-break my heart crooned Toni Braxton, in a song that cuts right to the crux of relationship pain.

When you go through a tough break-up, it’s hard to imagine a time when you’ll be OK again (and occasionally people do actually die from a broken heart – so it’s no imaginary trauma).

All you really want to do is mope and wallow in your loss. But, while an ice-cream binge or three is soup for the soul, dwelling is not.

Read more: I celebrated my 30th birthday by travelling alone

Studies show that distracting yourself is crucial in heartbreak recovery, and this healing process is best handled via positive time management. You need to foster optimism for the future, rather than hankering over the past.

“This means no Facebook stalking,” writes attorney and relationships guru Dr. Wendy Patrick, in Psychology Today. “Time spent checking the status updates, likes, and another online activity of an ex is far better spent meeting new people and making new friends.”

Of course, you may not be in the mood to socialise in your fragile break-up state. But solo travel will propel you out of your comfort zone and into the Great Unknown, so this process will happen almost without you thinking about it.

Throw yourself headlong into kayaking in Colombia or trekking the Sri Lankan tea hills, and you’ll be managing your time in a positive way. Against all your baser instincts, the road to recovery kicks in.


Where to travel solo this year

Hop aboard for a game-changing adventure with a group of like-minded solo travellers

Challenge yourself in Chile

Patagonia

This thrill-a-minute adventure sees us boat between the looming glaciers of Patagonia, and hike in Torres del Paine National Park on a rousing day-long trek through gleaming lakes and snow-capped peaks. We’ll visit a family-run vineyard in the wine hills of Casablanca, white-water raft the Petrohué River and knock back sundowners amid the ethereal, lunar-like landscape of the Atacama desert. Win.

Three cheers for Chile

Hike high in the Himalayas

A group hiking through the Himalayas in Nepal

Veer away from the selfie-wielding tourists with this nine-day ascent through more remote foothills of the Himalayas. Our route takes us off the Everest Trail to a tucked-away world of rhododendron forest and far-flung Sherpa villages. After slowly climbing through a spectacular landscape of gushing rivers and towering peaks, we’ll reach the viewpoint at Farak Ri (5,000 metres) – and a champagne breakfast to celebrate.

Everest dreaming

Safari the plains of Tanzania

Nothing puts life in perspective quite like the golden Savannah of Serengeti National Park. When you rise here for a dawn safari, and a chance to see elephants, lions and other majestic creatures in their natural habitat, all other issues fade into the distance. Soak in the marvel of Mother Earth on jaw-dropping game drives, before rounding things off with sailing and beach days on the sunny island of Zanzibar.

Into Africa

Images: Shutterstock, Flash Pack

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